From awesome achievements to crushing lows, farewells and new beginnings — it has been a rollercoaster year for Zimbabwean sport across the codes.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO/MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
StandardSport looks back at some of the highs and lows of Zimbabwean sport in 2018.
There were many low notes in Zimbabwean sport this year. Who can forget the silence that engulfed Rufaro Stadium when the Mighty Warriors missed out on a ticket to Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) finals in Zambia.
And after CAPS United’s flattering run the Caf Champions league in 2017, the onus was now on Zimbabwe champions FC Platinum to also patch up the country’s dwindling reputation in the premier continental club competitions.
But alas the champions from Zvishavane failed to clear the very first hurdle falling 5-1 on aggregate to Angolan side Club Desportivo D’Agosto in the preliminary round.
Then there was also Zimbabwe’s failure to qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan amid so much expectations following the high profile appointment of former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers as head coach of the Sables and the coming on board of several sponsors.
Without a doubt the nadir of Zimbabwean sport this year however the national cricket team’s failure to qualify for next year’s International Cricket Council World Cup which will be hosted by England and Wales.
Needing a win in their last Super Sixes match against minnows United Arab Emirates in front of probably the biggest home crowd ever witnessed at Harare Sports Club, Zimbabwe slumped to a heart-breaking three run defeat to miss out on a place at next year’s global showpiece.
The result meant Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1983.
Regardless of the lows, it has been a year filled with a lot of thrills and spills; and far too numerous memorable achievements. It is practically impossible to determine which one top the list.
Since football is the most followed sport in the world there is always a propensity to amplify successes in the sport.
The Zimbabwe Warriors made history at Cosafa bagging a record seventh title after successfully retaining their trophy in dramatic fashion, in Polokwane in June.
But then this was at only regional level.
History was also made in Zambia after the Zimbabwe senior netball booked a ticket for a maiden appearance at the World Cup to be held in Liverpool, England next year.
The Gems as the team is affectionately known, will now face the top ranked team in the world Australia, Northern Ireland as well as Sri Lanka in Group A at the global event slated for July.
Gilbert Nyamutsamba and his Cheetahs will claim to be the toast of the Zimbabwe’s sporting year after they embarked on an Africa expedition and conquered.
The Cheetahs are the reigning Gold Cup champions after they defeated continental giants Kenya in the final of a tournament hosted in the Tunisian City of Monastir two months ago.
And as benefits, the Cheetahs earned the right of passage to the Dubai, Cape Town and Hong Kong legs of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
It was not all gloom from national cricket team as they provided the nation with some cheer as well. The team actually remembered how to win a Test match away following a 151-run win over Bangladesh in Sylhet last month. It was Zimbabwe’s first away from home since 2001 in the longer version of the game.
It was a famous victory that attracted a fair amount of global attention but whether it was enough to sooth the disappointment of failing to qualify for the ICC World Cup is another story.
There were other achievements worth mentioning for Zimbabwe sport this year. Imagine the Zimbabwe Warriors beating DRC, then ranked second in Africa in their own backyard.
How does that victory rate against some of the country’s best moments in 2018?
Sunday Chidzambga’s side had to settle for a one-all draw in the return leg which means they took a massive four point from the Central Africa giants in the bid to qualify for the 2019 Afcon finals.
The job is not done yet, the Warriors need a point at home against Congo Brazzaville to qualify for their second successive Afcon finals.
Not to takeaway anything for Korfball as a sport, they actually qualified for the 2019 World Cup to be held in Durban South Africa. It’s a piece of news that may get people staring at the roof wondering if there is any such sport.
Well there you have it; korfball will be hoisting the country’s flag and the global stage next year.
Then there was the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team who also beat highly rated Turkey 3-1 back in February at Harare Sports Club to cement their place in the Euro/Africa Group II.
However the team lost in Poland a couple of months latter blowing a chance of progressing to the Group 1 promotion playoffs
Star of the Year
The star of the year has got to be Zimbabwe international and Belgium-based footballer Marvellous Nakamba, who joined the elite league of Zimbabweans to have played in the Uefa Champions league.
Nakamba with his teams Club Brugge competed in Group A of the lucrative European club competition alongside Atletico Madrid, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund, all giants in Europe.
He starred when Brugge clobbered Monaco 4-0 in France and against Borussia Dortmund when his team earned a nil-all point at the famous Signal Iduna Park the home of Dortmund.
Nakamba was also impressive when Brugge held the might Atletico Madrid in Belgium.
Closer home, Nakamba marshalled the midfield like a boss as Zimbabwe beat DR Congo in Kinshasa in an Afcon qualifier two months ago.
All this was after he had guided Brugge to the Belgium title in May this year.
I don’t think there is debate here.
Of course we spare a thought for Brendan Taylor, the former Zimbabwe cricket captain recently joined a unique club of 11 players in the world to have scored a century in each innings of a Test match on two occasions, following his scores of 110 and 106 not out during the second Test against Bangladesh in Dhaka last month.
His two hundreds in Dhaka also meant Taylor became the first Zimbabwean to do so on two different occasions, rivalled only by brothers Andy and Grant Flower — who both reached the milestone once.
Champions FC Platinum’s mainstay Rodwell Chinyengetere also won the Soccer Star accolade for the second year running and joined an exclusive club that has the likes of Peter Ndlovu and George Shaya.
The 2018 Sporting will be remembered as the one when one of the greatest athletes to ever emerge from this country Kirsty Coventry was put in charge of the Sport ministry.
It is the first time that a former sportsperson holds the office and this appointment brought some renewed hope for the future of Zimbabwean sport.
A new dispensation for Zimbabwe football also began after flamboyant businessman Phillip Chiyangwa lost in the Zifa elections to Felton Kamambo.
National teams did not perform that badly under Chiyangwa’s reign but that little success came at a huge cost as the associations debt shot from five to $8 million.
There was also pillaging of what was left of Zifa’s assets during his tenure and Kamambo has the difficult task of reviving Zimbabwe football going forward.
And as 2018 concludes we bid farewell to former Zifa boss Chiyangwa who had presided over local football since December 2015.
It was a roller-coaster three years for Zimbabwe football under his watch. And considering that his football background was as concrete as mist, Chiyangwa however tried his best under the circumstances as evidenced by the success of the Warriors in the region and on the continent.
The controversial former Zifa boss had however become very unpopular in football circles due to his deeply divisive and dictatorial style of football management which left the domestic game polarised.
Most of his victims, who were either summarily banned or suspended from the domestic game or fired from the local governing body without being given their dues are probably still celebrating his demise.